Last Plant Standing: Fall vs. Spring Garden Clean Up

My last post was about seedheads, but I was going to talk about the importance of letting plants stand through winter. However, I got distracted and forgot. So I’m reblogging this post from 2013, which addresses the question of fall versus spring cleanup.


One way to classify gardeners is based on whether they remove dead plant material in fall or spring. Mostly I’m a spring cleaner.

Birds and bugs are my primary reason. The other day I watched goldfinches feeding on the seed heads of yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), one of the late season sights I love. These and other seed heads are basically free bird feeders. And the tiny seeds left on the ground will attract sparrows and buntings in spring.

Joe Pye Weed Sweet Joe Pye Weed seed heads in fall.

Plus, there are all kinds of eggs and hibernating critters in the stems and under the leaf litter. Let them be and you are more likely to have a diverse and healthy population of insects. This is a positive thing as it reduces the chance any one insect species will become a serious problem.

Some people  are very enthusiastic about the…

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22 Comments on “Last Plant Standing: Fall vs. Spring Garden Clean Up”

  1. I would like to say we are spring cleaners due to wildlife, but that would only be partly true. We are also ready for a break from our long season of gardening and the December-March break is welcome.

  2. Before the end of October, friends and I “tidy up” the gardens at which we volunteer. At home, I’m much lazier. There are monarchs and swallowtails and bees and birds still busy on the asters, tithonia, anise hyssop — I just can’t lop the flowers off!

  3. It is funny that you describe this. Because we get no snow here, I would prefer to clean ‘everything’ in autumn as quickly as it dies back. However, the finches would not be happy about that. I must be selective, and then come back later for the sunflowers, sages and such.

  4. We think alike, Jason–I am a spring cleaner, too. I have so many coneflowers in one flowerbed that I couldn’t help myself and cut a few of them back to let some fall bloomers stand out. But otherwise I leave them for the birds–I’ve even seen the hummingbirds use the seedheads as a perch, which has to be a little uncomfortable:) I’m not big on winter interest either, but the seedheads do look lovely with a dollop of snow on top. Love your response to your kids:)

  5. In the late winter of 2007 I shattered my left leg. Spring clean-up? I had to hire someone. A few years later I had spinal surgery in September. No fall clean-up. Now that I am in my 70’s I do my clean-up when I am able. I am busy doing it right now. Who knows what spring may bring.

  6. I’m a fall cleaner! I like to lay down layers of mulch and compost in all my raised beds. I’ll cut the plants down to ground level and leave the roots of the vegetables to rot. Then, I won’t till in the spring. The asparagus bed gets done in December, when the fronds are dried and brown, then they get a layer of steer manure. I don’t plant winter vegetable crops.
    As for the perennial flowers, it will be weeks yet before some are done blooming, so cleanup runs into winter sometimes!

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